Mississippi River State Water Trail: Brainerd to Little Falls

Mississippi River Trail

The upper section of this segment reflects the river's "Father of Waters" stereotype as a river of enormity and dignity. Prominent glacial features emerge as you travel down river. There are no major rapids, but use caution, as the current can be deceptively strong in places.

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Mississippi River Water Trail sections and maps:

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Local contact

River location map
Order map

Crow Wing and Morrison Counties, central Minnesota
Contact DNR Parks and Trails Central Regional Office: (651) 259-5748.

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River character

The river flow is smooth and relatively calm throughout this stretch. The easy flow allows for quiet wildlife viewing and the enjoyment of Minnesota's natural resources.


The Crow Wing River flows southeasterly to the Mississippi from a system of lakes lying east of the Mississippi headwaters at Lake Itasca. Minnesota's eastern forests and western prairies intersect at the confluence of these two rivers.

A prominent glacial feature of this section is the Ripley esker, lying just east of the Mississippi. This sinuous ridge was created by the deposit of sediments where a stream once ran under a glacier. The ridge's west slope is mostly open and dominated by a remnant oak savanna and dry prairie. In contrast, the east slope supports a diverse deciduous woods, including maple and basswood. The actual esker is about three miles long.

Fish and wildlife

Good water quality supports an excellent game fish population including muskie, walleye, smallmouth bass and northern pike.

The Minnesota Department of Health has guidelines for consuming fish taken from Minnesota's lakes and rivers. Go to the Fish Consumption Advisory Page to find out more.

Watch for deer, raccoon, bear, muskrat, beaver, turtles, waterfowl, hawks and eagles along the shore.


Crow Wing State Park, at the mouth of the Crow Wing River, is an important landmark in Minnesota Indian history. The Dakota, who once held virtually all of Minnesota, were defeated by the Ojibwe in a decisive battle at the mouth of the Crow Wing in the 1760s. By the end of the American Revolution the Ojibwe occupied lands east of the Mississippi and north of the Crow Wing River.

Fort Ripley was built in 1848 a few miles below the Crow Wing to watch over the recently arrived Winnebago Indians and to keep peace between the Dakota and Ojibwe. In 1877 the post was abandoned; in 1930 a National Guard reservation was established around the site of the old fort.

Just south of the Crow Wing River confluence is the site of the abandoned town of Crow Wing, one of the state's oldest ghost towns. The town was abandoned in the early 1870s when surveyors for the Northern Pacific Railroad selected a site on the east bank of the Mississippi for a railroad crossing.

Just upstream from Little Falls, Belle Prairie Park offers day use. A Catholic mission was established here in the 19th century, led by Father Pierz, who traveled extensively throughout the lands held by Ojibwe people. A stand of virgin white pine is tended by the Franciscan Sisters who operate a convent and boarding school east of the river. Belle Prairie Park contains a remnant of the Red River Ox Cart Trail, which linked fur trading posts in the Red River Valley with St. Paul, before the Civil War. ‌